Category Archives: Fontenelle Forest

Fresh Air and Take-Out Tuesday

Spring is beginning to bud all over town (and in our yard), so over the past week, the Johnson Family has stopped “sheltering in place” long enough to have some fun outside, getting fresh air while waiting out the coronavirus (whether the kids like it or not).


On Thursday, we had a picnic underneath the stage of Stinson Park and then had a lovely walk up and down the Keystone Trail. We got to see such things as fussy buds on a few trees, a stay birds’ nest, and some “shooting heart” graffiti underneath a bridge.

There are only a few restaurants open in Aksarben Village (and no movie theater) during the coronavirus lockdown, so the most activity I’ve seen are the window washers “flying” outside the Pacific Life building.

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In the meantime, we’ve been trying a few new things at home, such as homemade pizza, pretzels, sauce and salsa from Volcanic Peppers, and some “whipped coffee” that seems to be a craze online.

My parents also celebrated their 45th anniversary, but since we couldn’t join them, I installed Skype on my computer and let the kids say hello virtually. It’s getting a little frustrating not being able to say hello to grandma and grandpa these days, but hopefully this lock down will be over soon.


On Sunday, we got some more fresh air walking the trails of the Fontenelle Forest. The doors seemed to be open for both members and non-members alike, so we got some exercise with the kids exploring the hilly trails, ponds, and overlooks around the forest, as well as the playground of course. We also got to see a red-headed woodpecker and the Constitution Tree before getting too tuckered out. Then Jack was kind enough to lend us some expiring fuel points to use on the way home, where we filled up at around $1.16/gallon.

When we’re not outside, I’ve been helping with some of our homeschooling as well, teaching Aaron math with Khan Academy, which he played out with chalk on the driveway one day driving home from work.


We had a particularly special night on Take-Out Tuesday (as designated by our Governor). First, we swung by Dinker’s Bar and Grill to get some of Omaha’s Best Burgers for dinner, which we ate with fries picnic-style at Hanscom Park down the street. I’d visited this 150-year old park once or twice before, but this was the first time with the kids. Hannah was particularly interested in the “twisty tree” that swirled like a soft-serve cone.

Then after dinner, we drove down the street for a drive-by birthday parade for our Jitterbug friend Billy, who was turning forty. Some of our friends wanted to throw him an socially distant parade, so we and several Jitterbug friends lined up in our cars, some decorated appropriately, and drove past his house honking and waving around a 6:45. I think it made his day.

Feeling Sassy

It’s been a fun week in politics leading up to our annual camping trip with the Mills.


First up on Monday was an event with Senator Ben Sasse, who announced the kick-off for his re-election campaign in a hot, steamy airplane hangar in Millard. A crowd of a couple hundred people were there and included GOP all-stars past and present: Don Stenberg, Kay Orr, Dave Heineman, Jean Stothert, Pete Ricketts, Congressmen Bacon and Fortenberry, and many others. The oppressive heat didn’t seem to be anybody down (even the ones in suits), as a couple folks broke out dancing waiting for things to get started. Jim Rose from KFAB acted as emcee and introduced Sasse with a brief line-up of VIPs before the junior senator took the stage with his family. He then gave a brief stump speech on civility and socialism, touching specifically on the aftermath of the mass shootings over the weekend.

Sasse stuck around to meet-and-greet and get selfies with several of people in the crowd (including me, of course). Then he and his family rolled off in a giant campaign travel-trailer as his 2020 bid for re-election officially began. Sasse didn’t do any interviews with the press afterward, however, but several of his guests did. The rest of us stayed and mingled for a while, and I enjoyed seeing Jon Tucker and Tom Becka get into a real-life Facebook argument before I headed out.


Meanwhile, Vivian took the Hannah and Aaron to “Pump it up” for a night of bouncing in a large, inflatable playground to burn off some energy. It was hosted by the Autism Society of Nebraska, so there was no blaring rock music overhead this time around, which made for a strangely more peaceful event.

Then on Wednesday, Vivian took the kids on their last trip to “Mud Pies” at the Fontenelle nature center. They’ve been going to this little program since Hannah was barely a toddler, but now they’re remodeling and restructuring or something so the program they knew won’t be there any longer. It was kind of a sad way to say goodbye to the days of painting and visiting animals (both real and plush) that they’d grown up enjoying for so long.


Then on Wednesday, Congressman Don Bacon hosted a town hall, the first since the one I attended in Omaha back on May. The event was held at the Fire Barn in Waterloo in a room that only held around 120 people. A campaign staffer apologized for the small venue, saying that they couldn’t get a larger one due to “liability concerns.”

Whatever those concerns might have been, they didn’t materialize as the town hall started. The folks in the room were largely friendly, and there were only a few times people seemed to be yelling out of term (unlike previous town halls where it seemed more the rule than the exception). Many of the questions were on gun control, assault weapons, red flag laws, and racism in America (particularly relating to President Trump). Bacon answered the questions drawn randomly from a box, even if they were from people who hadn’t made it into the room. There were about four or five protesters outside, but the back-and-forth inside was congenial to say the least, even among those who disagreed with the Congressman.

There was also national media present in the room, with folks from the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, and even Vice among them. It’ll be interested to see the reporting on the event, since there weren’t the partisan fireworks some might have been expecting.


Then on Thursday, just to be bipartisan, I swung by the “Tech Brew” event in Council Bluffs to catch a glimpse of Andrew Yang, who today qualified for the next Democrat debate). About 70 people (including a handful of media) turned out at the Kitchen Council to see the entrepreneur turned Presidential candidate. I’d heard a bit about him via the Joe Rogan and Ben Shapiro podcasts, and I’d also read a bit about his proposal for a $1,000/month Universal Basic Income, which sounded a bit far-fetched to say the least. He was a very interesting candidate, however, sounding very reasonable as described how workers displaced by automation had helped elect Trump. I didn’t have long to stick around after the Q&A, but I’m hoping he has the chance to swing by again before the caucus is over.

Campfire, birthday reunion, and muddy feet


Our weather’s been a bit sporadic, going from hot to cold with a few thunderstorms in-between. On Saturday, it was a bit rainy and cool, but still perfectly fine for a mud day at Fontenelle Forest. Vivian and I took the kids for a barefoot stroll through the woods, and then the kids got to play in mud, make some mud paintings, and splash around in a pool of mud to make muddy footprints. It was good clean fun, naturally, and we were able to enjoy it all before the rain started coming down in earnest.

Hannah also got to show Grammy her new robot puppy, which she was able to earn doing her reading lessons this week. I did a bit of yard work, tilling the garden as Vivian introduced the kids to the “helicopters” from our maple tree.


On Sunday, our old friend Ben had a birthday party at his new house in Bellevue. We joined a bunch of our old friends to have some flame-broiled burgers and brats along with some cake (reminder to everyone — never leave your grill unattended).

Vivian and I had first met these people over a decade ago when we were a rag-tag group of Christian singles. Most of us have gotten married since then and even added a few kids to the mix, who immediately enjoyed getting sugared up and playing with each other. Ben also showed us his new robot lawnmower, which seemed to spend the afternoon criss-crossing the lawn randomly trying to figure out where the grass was.


Then on Monday, Hannah seemed eager to roast marshmallows on a campfire, making her own mock-campfire out of random items in our living room. I gathered up my collection of fallen branches along with a fresh stack of firewood and lit up our fire pit for a little evening cookout. We invited the Mills, whose four kids played with ours as we made a handful of s’mores together. We were able to burn through nearly all the wood before we called it a night, which was nice since the city won’t take fallen branches anymore in our weekly garbage pickup.

In the meantime, here comes summer. Swim lessons are already underway for the kids at the Kroc Center, and before long we’ll be camping for real again.

Fairy fair and final fish fry


We’re diving headlong into Holy Week as we prepare to finish off the Lenten Season. Winter’s had a few last gasps (with some fence-smashing wind), but it’s been nice enough to go for a stroll with the kids on a number of occasions. Then on Thursday, we had the Mills over to have a fish fry at our house with our combined gaggle of kids. Vivian fried up some cod with a coating that used ginger beer as one of the ingredients.

Nate also brought along his Wii so we could introduce our kids to a variety of different Mega Man games before calling it a night. We’ve been playing Mega Man quite a bit recently, so much so that Hannah’s learned to draw all eight robot masters.


I had Friday off for “Employee Appreciation Day” at work, so I had a lovely morning to myself as Vivian took the kids to their homeschool co-op. Dad and I did some shopping at Costco, and then I introduced him to Gerda’s, the quaint German restaurant on Leavenworth that reminded me very much of the Bohemian Cafe (which the owner told us himself that he missed). We both had some German sausage, sauerkraut, and potato salad for lunch.

That evening, Vivian took Hannah to a mommy/daughter party with a bunch of our friends, which involved lovely dresses, flowery picture frames, and painting birdhouses. (I got some alone time with Aaron in the meantime, which involved coloring, rough-housing, and eating hot dogs.)


On Saturday, we took the kids down to the Fontenelle Forest for a Fairy Faire. The all broke out our fairy wings and had a morning of fairy fun, including some face-painting, coloring a cardboard house, and making some magic wands (with sticks handed out by a strange hobo). It was a little chilly outside again this year, but that didn’t keep us from going out to the patio to blow some bubbles or venture into the woods to assemble our fairy houses (with components from the fairy market). Hannah and Aaron also got christened with some fairy names downstairs before sliding around, and then we got a couple photos with some fairy ladies upstairs before heading home.


Sunday was Palm Sunday, so we gathered all the kids to march around the church a couple times during Hosanna at the opening of the service. It won’t be long before our kids are too old for this sort of thing, so we’ve got to enjoy it while we can.

In other news, I ate a Meat Monster sandwich at Arby’s. It does exist. Hopefully my heart won’t be clogged by Easter, which is right around the corner.

Eclipse Talk and Fun Plex

Summer’s quickly cooled down, making for lovely weather to take the kids down to Sandy Park to play outside or have dinner out on the deck at home. There’s also been rain off and on, but our kids still manage to have fun even indoors.


If you haven’t heard by now, there’s a total eclipse of the sun coming up on August 21. Vivian and I plan to brave the crowd and traffic and head to Beatrice (AKA “Ground Zero”) to catch a glimpse of it.

The Fontenelle Nature Center had a fireside chat at Camp Brewster on Friday to tell the little ones all about the eclipse with a demonstration using balloons (Hannah got to be the sun), eclipse glasses for us to try out, and a reading of the story “Someone Is Eating the Sun.” Hannah and Aaron seemed a bit more interested in climbing on trees and a fence to look at the view of the river, but I hope in a week or two they’ll want to catch a glimpse of an eclipse as well (with the glasses, of course).

On Sunday, I returned to the Nature Center to hear a few guys from Rockbrook Camera give a brief talk on eclipse photography. I learned that I could get a paper solar filter for a little less than the $150 products I’d seen in my dad’s photography catalog, so I went ahead and ordered one so I could get a snapshot of a few phases other than “totality.”


Then on Wednesday, I took the day off so we could take our kids to Fun Plex for the very first time. I’d visited the park with Vivian twice before, but this was the first time we’d made use of the kids’ attractions. Hannah and Aaron got to ride the merry-go-round, the cars, the planes, the train, and the alligator roller coaster multiple times throughout the day. They were both also tall enough to ride the bumper boats with mommy and daddy as we tried puttering about and squirting each other with water, and we all went up in the balloon ferris wheel as a family. There had been rain in the forecast that fortunately passed us by, leaving us free to enjoy getting wet at the water park as well. The kids spent most of their time in the kiddie pool or sliding around the new Makana Splash area.

We took a lunch break across the street at Dairy Queen before coming back for more water and rides. Mommy and daddy even got time to try some “adult” things as well, doing the roller coaster, cars, and big water slide at least once before calling it a day.

Fairies and Fish Fries

We’re still having bouts of bi-polar weather, with 70-degree temperatures one day and freezing the next. The weather service predicted up to six inches of snow on the weekend, and we got exactly got ZERO. The only thing I can accurately predict is that we’ll have fun no matter what’s going on outside.


Since it’s Lenten Season, however, that means we’re having fun inside standing in line, drinking beer, and eating fish with our friends. First stop on our Fishy Friday tour was St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, located out of Omaha’s Exurban wasteland, Gretna (with miles of cookie-cutter neighborhoods in every direction but not even one grocery store). The fish was top-notch, though I did find the lack of guitar player and meat wheel a tad disappointing. We still had plenty of fishy fun with our friends up to (and past) closing time.

The next day, Hannah made gingerbread cookies with daddy. She did nearly everything herself, aside from picking the ingredients and putting everything in the oven. Nothing beats baking cookies for quality time with the kids, other than perhaps reading a good book.


St. Patrick’s Day wandered by and punched us in the face on Friday. We gave the kids some Lucky Charms for breakfast and got them dressed up in green for the day. Then that evening, we had our traditional Irish American dinner together — corned beef, cabbage, red potatoes, and soda bread, all washed down with a bit of Irish Stout and Mint Irish Cream.

Then on Saturday, we dropped by the Fontenelle Forest for their Fairy Faire. Hannah and Aaron both put on their wings, hear a fairy story, and play with some bubbles. Even daddy got in on the fun. They also got tokens to spend on a snack and some woodland components to assemble a fairy house at various points in the forest.


We also had a few birthdays over the weekend. After the Fairy Faire on Saturday, we took the kids to the Y for Little Matthew Lenart’s birthday party. The kids got sugared up with a Batman Cookie Cake, and then we swam it off in the pool together for a bit.

Then on Sunday, I took the kids via wagon to my my parents’ house to celebrate Uncle Jonny’s birthday. Hannah made him a birthday card, and Nathan and I (somewhat jointly) gave him the giant hardcover book, Ultimate Nintendo: Guide to the NES Library — a book created via Kickstarter that reviews pretty much every NES game ever made. The weather was delightfully warm, so the kids got some quality time outdoors playing with balloons (some filled with water) while grandpa brought some Chinese food and pizza home for dinner.

Celebrating Seventy


Vivian’s mom turned 70 over the weekend, so naturally we had to pull off a larger-than-usual celebration. Her first big surprise of the weekend came on Friday, when her sister “Uncle” Mary and niece Brenda came to visit from California. Vivian had kept their trip a secret for months and we welcomed them with Digornio’s on the patio.

Then on Saturday, we had a big shin-dig in the basement of Twin Valley Church. Jack and Keith grilled up a bunch of pork, Vivian and I brought in a bunch of sides, and the Omaha cake club brought in a flowery birthday cake (of which Hannah got a giant corner piece). A whole bunch of our mutual family and friends came to celebrate as well, while at the same time a few people from church were outside working on the concrete (we gave them cake, too).

That evening, we took Mary and Brenda down to the pedestrian bridge to walk from Iowa to Nebraska and back. It was a lovely, cool evening (in contrast with next week’s heatwave) to see the sun go down. We stopped by the Old Market for a peek inside the Hollywood Candy shop, and then we returned home with milk shakes and onion rings for dinner afterward.


On Sunday after church, we all went to see the new Raptor Refuge at the Fontenelle Forest. It’s a fairly elaborate bird sanctuary with a variety of hawks, owls, and other birds of prey in for a variety of maladies, including broken wings. The refuge is built like a series of tree houses interconnected by a set of suspension bridges (which Hannah and Aaron found much more interesting). I even got a staff member to identify the hawk that’s been squatting in our front yard (it’s a Cooper’s Hawk). We stayed a little while to explore the forest and see a few tree houses and xylophones, but it was hot and muggy without even a hint of a breeze, so we headed home to cool off before long.

Then that evening, we took Donna, Mary, Brenda, and Jack out for a delicious sushi binge at Tokyo Sushi. Mary and Brenda especially like sushi, so we all got our fill before walking it off a bit in the old market. Mary and Brenda stopped by Iron Decor & More to get some lawn sculptures, and we took a stroll to the passageway and back before having ice cream at Ted & Wally’s. Donna got a free scoop since it was her birthday, of course.

Mary and Brenda will be with us another day or two and are visiting the Omaha Zoo on Monday. Then they’ll head home just in time for Vivian and me to go off and celebrate eight years of marriage together. More on that in my next update.

Mudpies, Tamales, and Rainbows


The Johnson Family had some time to play in the dirt over the weekend. On Thursday, Hannah and Aaron got to play with mud down at the Fontenelle Center during Mud Pies. That included making muddy footprints, making paintings with mud, and also having frozen chocolate “mud bars” as a snack. It’s something they do every year for Mud Pies and the first time Aaron’s got to experience it himself.

Then on Saturday morning, dad and I got to do some manly work together as we fixed a couple fence posts in my yard. Spring rains and strong winds pushed our fence over to the point where we needed to re-anchor it with cement. It was a fairly simple job, but required two people to level the posts and tie them down with stakes before I poured cement at the base and cleaned them up with a makeshift trowel (i.e. stir stick). After half an hour or so — huzzah! Good as new.


That evening, we celebrated our friend Jen’s birthday party with another culinary experience — making tamales! Phil and Jen both had corn husks, masa (corn meal with lard) and a pair of meat fillings — rabbit and pork — laid out for us to assemble. It was a surprising amount of work to make tamales, and I learned in the process how instead to make pupusas — pancakes made with the masa and meat and fried instead of steamed. We always love going to Phil and Jen’s house since we always learn something new about food when we come over.


On Sunday afternoon, we took the kids to a piano recital for the Folken kids, who played a few songs for us and also recited a few bible verses from memory. It was a good lesson in getting the kids to sit still before hanging out afterward.

Then that evening we went by the Bellevue Christian Center for a kind of graduation ceremony for the little ones at Rainbows. It went very much like last time with the kids singing a song or two and displaying what they’ve learned this year (and flirting with boys). Hannah got to show us her collection of badges before returning her vest for the summer. Sammy is in her class and had to give Hannah a hug goodbye as she and her family will be sadly moving to Minnesota before long. All four grandparents (and Aaron) were also in attendance, at least until Hannah’s class was finished.

Fun with Dirt


We’ve had some intermittent showers over the past couple of weeks, which has made our time outdoors a bit sporadic. We went out for a picnic in Olde Town Bellevue last Wednesday shortly before we were inundated with rain for a couple days. Hannah and Aaron both got to swing, ride a teeter-totter together, and get a selfie with mom and dad on the bench swing before some drizzle swept through town.

By the weekend, things had cleared up enough for Vivian and me to wear ourselves out tearing up the garden and overturning all the soil to make it ready for some tomatoes, kale, and basil for our garden this summer. I was able to keep the kids happily occupied while Vivian got that part of the planting done.


On the following Tuesday, the Fontenelle Forest had actual mud at its Mudpies program, but it was unfortunately too cold and drizzly to make mud footprints outdoors (like they did last year). Hannah did get some quality time making a makeshift mud pie along with her usual run of painting and play-doughing. Hannah went to Grammy’s house later to make her own edible mud pie, which she proudly shared with me when I got home that day. Aaron enjoyed just sitting around and looking adorable.

Things were clear enough on Thursday for us to have dinner outdoors on Grammy and Pop-Pop’s new backyard deck. The grand kids had spent a good portion of their day there while Grammy got the van fixed, and Hannah made an adorable bit of art on the chalkboard that Vivian shared with me via cell phone.

Saturday Morning and Dr. Seuss


One of the traditions I had back in my college days was getting up on Saturday morning to watch an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 with my dad and having one of his omelets for breakfast. This was back when MST3K was on Comedy Central and we didn’t have to watch it on “circulated” tapes. My dad decided to give it a try again on Saturday, so I brought Hannah over and we all had breakfast with the grandparents (and Uncle Jonny) before watching a bizarre exploitation film by Ed Wood called The Violent Years. Hannah and Grandma got to have quality time together while the rest of us enjoyed the company of Mike and the Bots.

We had a potluck lunch after church on Sunday, which included Johnny Marzetti and lots of happy smiles from my little boy.


On Monday, it was Dr. Seuss’ 111th birthday. That meant the Bellevue Public Library held a “Seuss-a-Thon,” which included cupcakes and a book reading by Bellevue’s Mayor, Rita Sanders. Then on Wednesday, Hannah and Aaron went to the Fontenelle Forest Nature Center for Mudpies. Miss Kate showed everybody and Owl, and Hannah got to spend her morning painting and dressed up inexplicably as a turtle.

These are some of the weekly activities I unfortunately have to miss out on having full-time employment to keep me busy during the week, but this time around Vivian was nice enough to take some pictures. I do occasionally get to join in on some of this weekday when I have a day off here or there, which will happen again soon as Annunciation Day is just a few weeks away.